Experiencing the colour and energy of the Laura Dance Festival.
AT THE PRECISE MOMENT her uncle died, an owl perched itself on the back fence. It gazed through the house like an X-ray. Come dawn, it would fly away to wherever owls spend their sleepy days, returning to the same spot every single night. Nothing, it seems, would budge the owl. Not that Tamara Pearson wanted it to go. She knew what or, more precisely, who the owl was. Tonight, Tamara is an owl. Not that owl; not exactly. She scratches sharply in the dusty earth, flutters in and out of feverish shadows that have a life of their own thanks to a palpitating light show. Her freaky, folkloric get-up sentences the uninitiated pre-schooler to a childhood of night terrors. But the children of Cape York Peninsula’s Aboriginal communities who flock around the Laura Dance Festival circle tonight – way, way past their bedtimes – do not fear the owl. They know things; things that this white fella does not and most likely never will. Tamara is principal for Cairns-based Sacred Creations Dance, four outback hours’ drive away. She’s not competing in the daytime intercommunity challenges, but has the daunting task of providing nighttime entertainment at one of the most important cultural events in Australia. Her deputies are an amalgam of her nieces and a mob of Laura town’s progeny “who’ve never really got the chance to dance at their own festival”. It’s almost impossible for an outsider to truly grasp the minutiae of Indigenous dance, culture and spirituality in a few days, but if you have the chance to do it anywhere, that chance will come at Laura’s festival. For a start, some things simply aren’t supposed to be seen or heard by the outsider. That’s the way it is and will always be. But mostly, the modern does not want to – or cannot – see the ancient; too entangled in unbending prisms of understanding strictly scientific notions of time, space and biology. If you can’t see past these rubrics, then you really have little chance of ‘getting it’. “Obviously, the owl is very special for me,” Tamara says, with her scary owl mask removed. She is connected to the Cape on both sides of her family; her ‘people’ from Hope Vale, just north of Cooktown. “It’s a sign to say that the people who have passed on are still with us. He/she is a very wise animal that holds the key to secret knowledge and holds an ancient culture within its wings. It’s the totem for some people too and helps us to remember to show respect to the caretakers of the land,” she says. “Remember, our Dreaming stories are mythical, literally like a dream. We might not actually see it, but we truly believe it.” And there it is, the epiphany; a lens with which to view the performances that unfold over the decades-old three-day festival, no matter the